On 1 July 2004 the Dutch Lower House adopted a motion directed at Minister Brinkhorst and State Secretary Van Gennip (Economic Affairs) to withdraw the Dutch vote in support of the Council of Ministers' text for the Directive on Software Patents. It was quite a surprise the motion was accepted.
In a letter to MPs, the State Secretary acknowledged that the Ministers initial claim was false that the Dutch agreement with the proposal didn't have any significant meaning. According to the Minister it was only a hammer piece, without any significant difference from earlier proposals. In the debate following the letter, on 24 June, the State Secretary got away with the embarrassing excuse that 'an error was made in the word-processor', somehow changing the crucial 'no' into 'yes!'.
Dutch MPs didn't accept these explanations, initiated a second debate and took a historical step in sending the minister back to the Council with the embarrassing mission of having to withdraw his agreement and convert it into an abstention.
The plans from the city council of Munich, Germany, to migrate all civil servants to open source Linux software, are endangered by the proposed new EU software patents directive. The Greens in Munich have filed 2 motions on 30 July 2004 demanding more research into how the directive affects the project. A cursory search revealed that the Linux 'base client', which the city of Munich plans to install on the desktop computers of approximately 14,000 employees, is in conflict with more than 50 European software patents. The planned advertisement at the end of July for the client was immediately cancelled until more research is done.
According to a newsitem on linuxelectrons, the Green alderman who filed the motions is a fan of open source, and "expresses concern over the future ability of open source software to meet the needs of the city
Since the beginning of July, the European Parliament had two weeks to group up fractions and build coalitions. A new pro-EU Centrist and Liberal group has emerged, which will be the third strongest in the European Parliament after the Conservatives and Social Democrats. Due to all the political power game, there was not much time left to discuss digital rights-related issues, even though important decisions were made about the working agenda of the EU institutions for the next months.
The most interesting development was the widespread tendency with national parliaments to make their governments step back from the decision taken on 18 May, adopting the Council Common Position on the patentability of so-called computer-implemented inventions, more accurately known as the the Software Patent Directive. Technically, amendments are still possible to the position taken at that time, because the decision has not yet been translated into all 20 official languages of the EU.
The LSM conference has become an institution in France and around the globe. It all began in the year 2000 and has now become a well established meeting place for members and friends of the Free Software movement. Between 6-10 July 2004 about 700 persons gathered to discuss the bright future for users of Libre Software.
There were many very different subjects to choose from, ranging from accessibility to Content Management Systems, from law to music and other arts and from public administration to corporate business solutions.
Another important topic was education. It has always been a very important part of the 'Rencontre Mondial du Logiciel Libre / LSM' both in numbers of presentations and workshops and in numbers of participants. This year the EDU-conference was integrated into the conference - mainly in the big conference room. Some 50 percent of participants came from local French schools. The Abul Edu program is highly popular in all French speaking countries and offers a wide range of programs for learning, everything from spelling to mathematics. This year there were also demonstrations of solutions from Norwegian Skolelinux to LinEx in Extremadura, Spain and an Italian school using the Knoppix distribution.
Bulgarian members of Parliament and Internet Society Bulgaria have filed a case with the Bulgarian Competition Protection Commission against both Microsoft Bulgaria and Microsoft USA.
The members of the Bulgarian Parliament Ivan Ivanov and Stoicho Katsarov and the Internet Society Bulgaria signed a letter to the Competition Protection Commission with four points questioning Microsoft practices and business behaviour.
The complaint concerns the development of the Bulgarian government e-gateway, which requires the users to have Windows and Internet Explorer if they want to use the electronic services, provided by the government. This is against rulings of art. 34 (2) of the Bulgarian law for protection of competition. Other articles concerned are art. 2 (1), points 2 and 3, and art. 18, point 2.
Tuesday 18 May the Council of the European Union adopted by a qualified majority in its Competitiveness meeting a Common position for the Second Reading of the Software Patent Directive. The text is described by the Foundation for a free Information Infrastructure as 'the most uncompromisingly pro-patent text yet'. The Common Position, which was agreed upon by the 25 Member States' ministers in charge of Internal Market, Industry and Research, largely ignores a vote in the European Parliament last September to restrict patentability in a way that would have been in line with the European patent Convention and effectively rejected patentability of actual software.
The text that the Council has voted for is regarded by many experts as being even worse than the initial Commission proposal, to which it adds direct patentability of computer programs, data structures and process descriptions. This extension of the focus seems to be the result of a shift in the internal balance of powers within the European Commission. The DG Internal Market, led by Dutch Frits Bolkestein and strongly in favour of software patents, increasingly prevails over DG Information Society, led by Erki Liikanen from Finland and mostly sceptical about software patents.
1.600 protesters followed a call of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) for a demonstration in Brussels on 14 April 2004. The event, a protest against new plans to allow for direct and extensive 'patentability of computer-implemented inventions' in the EU, was followed by a one-and-a-half day conference at the European Parliament, co-organised by the Green/EFA political group and different Linux user-groups from 25 European countries. The European Parliament voted on 24 September 2003 against all proposals that would make software patentable and added additional safeguards, such as freedom of publication and interoperation. This outcome was unacceptable to both Commission and representatives from the Member States. They have been working on a new scheme since.
The Competitiveness Council of Ministers was supposed to have voted on the Software Patent Directive on 27 November 2003, but due to continuing controversy over the text and heated disagreements between the Parliament and the Commission, some Member States (most notably France, which wants to conduct further consultations with stake-holders) called for the Council vote to be postponed.
The final vote on two of the most controversial information society Directives, the Directive on Software Patents and the Directive on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights has been delayed once more. The IPRE directive was withdrawn last minute from the 9 February plenary agenda of the European Parliament. On 6 February the Council presented a compromise.
The IPRE directive was designed to prevent piracy and counterfeiting in the EU, but the scope and criminal sanctions were extended to infringement of any IP right, for example to peer-to-peer file exchangers. The new scope was strongly criticised by consumer organisations, telecoms operators and internet service providers. They claimed it would force them into endless legal proceedings with representatives from the music and